LOS ANGELES — A little Afghan girl whose love of painting won the hearts of U.S. doctors who fitted her with a prosthetic arm returned to the United States on Thursday, after the group that sponsored her first visit said it learned her newfound celebrity made her a subject of death threats at home.
Seven-year-old Shah Bibi Tarakhail arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday morning on the last leg of a journey from Kabul.
She has been granted a six-month visa, but Amel Najjar, executive director of the nonprofit Children of War Foundation, said her group is looking into permanent residency status for her, perhaps as a political refugee.
Najjar said all the attention has made her a target of insurgents in Afghanistan, who railed against her exposure to Western culture.
The father told the group that he and his daughter had been in hiding and separated from the rest of their family since her return to Afghanistan in April. Meanwhile, he said, the girl had grown so depressed that he had her hospitalized.
"Her father called us a week ago, said she'd been in a hospital near the Pakistani border and her life was in danger," Najjar said. "Her father said, 'I can't care for her anymore and it's at a point where she needs to be out of here sooner rather than later."
The little girl lost her right arm last year when she picked up a grenade following a firefight between U.S. and Taliban forces in her village near the Pakistan border. The explosion, which killed her brother, also destroyed her right eye.
After doctors at Shriners Hospital For Children fitted her with a prosthetic arm she quickly adapted to it and resumed painting, something she revealed was her favored pastime in Afghanistan.
Children of War arranged a lesson for her with prominent abstract expressionist Davyd Whaley, who praised her talent. After Galerie Michael in Beverly Hills showed her work around, she received an invitation to visit the Picasso Museum in Spain.
The foundation has found a host family that's agreed to take Shah Bibi in while the group works to keep her in the country permanently.
In the meantime, doctors at Shriners Hospital plan to fit her with a prosthetic eye and treat some of the scars she sustained when the grenade exploded.